© Heinrich Böll Stiftung / Susan Wanjiru (links) & Judy Kibinge (rechts)
© Heinrich Böll Stiftung / Susan Wanjiru (links) & Judy Kibinge (rechts)

Am Freitagabend, 1. März 2013, exakt drei Tage vor den ersten Präsidentschaftswahlen in Kenia seit 2007 – in deren Anschluss es zu erheblichen Ausschreitungen kam, bei denen Menschen ihr Leben lassen mussten, andere ihre Wohnungen verloren – waren die kenianische Regisseurin Judy Kibinge und ihre Hauptdarstellerin Susan Wanjiru mit ihrem Film „Something Necessary“ im Kamera Filmkunsttheater in Bielefeld zu Gast. Hier hat sich filmtogo.net mit den beiden Frauen über den Film, über die Filmindustrie Afrikas wie auch über die anstehenden Wahlen unterhalten.

filmtogo.net: Miss Kibinge, you’re not a first time director. You did a lot of films before “Something Necessary”. What do you think is the difference between this one and your previous works?

Judy Kibinge: Actually there are quite a few differences. The most outstanding is the relevance and the timing of this film. Of course every single project or film is an enormous process, a learning curve and always a new experience. It’s always an attempt to push yourself in terms of the way you shoot a film or the way you tell your story. But in this case what is really different are the elections in Kenya on the forth of March. You know, right now it is the first of March. Our elections are three days away. This film is already running for five weeks in Kenya. It is a very timely and very sensitive film, because it reflects very much on the events of the last election in 2007 and the post election violence that occurred after it. It’s a film that audiences somehow have a very different experience with. But also we as filmmakers had this very different experience in making it.

filmtogo.net: What does it mean to you or what relevance does it have to you that a production company like One Fine Day Films puts all his efforts in the support of your film or overall in African independent films?

Judy Kibinge: I think it is fantastic. Let’s speak about the fact that the whole idea began with Tom Tykwer, who obviously is very well known in Germany. He is an absolutely brilliant filmmaker. We watched “Cloud Atlas” the other day and it was just mind blowing. We as filmmakers from Africa have so much to gain and learn from this initiative. But it’s a two way process. Because by One Fine Day Films partnering with Ginger Ink. and partnering with, not just emerging but established filmmakers from across Africa, seeking to reach a different audience, an international audience, something interesting happens with that fusion. For us it is the chance to get to a different level, to get to a larger and wider audience and to begin to understand how to do this. From the other side it’s just all the wonderful things that come with fusing ones talents with a completely different culture. We had a lot to learn from the people who came to Kenya to mentor filmmakers. Similarly the mentors had some pretty intense and interesting experiences themselves by working with and learning from Kenya as well.

filmtogo.net: You were mentioning it before: your film is running five weeks now in Kenya. Do you know anything about the reactions towards “Something Necessary” in your country?

Judy Kibinge: When we launched the film in Kenya five weeks ago we were both there. I think Sue, as the actress and the face of the film, received a lot of the immediate reactions from the audience.

Susan Wanjiru: The people were very emotional. I got many hugs. People did want to talk about it immediately. They like to hug you and ask you how you were able to bring that out. But most reactions were that the film was powerful.

filmtogo.net: When I’m not mistaken this was your first major film role. How does it feel like to be a part of something so important?

Susan Wanjiru: It is pretty exciting. Just having to have my first screen experience and starting with such a powerful movie. And how people coming and giving you positive feedback. That is really big to me and I thank god for that. I am really happy that it happened.

filmtogo.net: How did you experience the filming process? It’s obviously not just an acting job, because it is much more loaded with emotions. How do you prepare for such a role?

Susan Wanjiru: I wasn’t affected directly by what happened, but when I got the role I really got a lot of help by the amazing director. I had to go back as an actor and do my research and internalize the character and bring her out. So it was a lot of research and a lot of help from the director.

filmtogo.net: I mentioned before One Fine Day Films. Now I’m interested in how you finance a film in your country at all? In Germany we’ve got the funding system and in Hollywood they’ve got the studio system. How does it work in Africa?

Judy Kibinge: I think that the system is very different across Africa. In South Africa for instance, they have a very efficient national film and television foundation that puts substantial money in the films that they’re doing. They also have Broadcaster SABC (South Africa Broadcasting Company) who actually commissioned programs. In Kenya it is entirely different. Funding is very hard and very rare to come by. Broadcasters have only quite recently, I would say maybe in the last five to seven years, began to even put money into TV shows and sitcoms. We do have a film commission. But it doesn’t give out grants. Yet somehow people manage to make films. We have an interesting system emerging that looks to Nollywood and West Africa and tends to generate a huge number of very low budget films. It may not produce the most sparklingly, wonderfully, technically competent films, but it has its own following, its driven totally by commerce and it builds audiences. So we have a lot of Kenyans at home who will buy that local content. On a different level we have quite a few innovative filmmakers. People like Anuri Kahiu, who have managed to find her own financing. She did things like the first of Africas Sci-Fi as a sort of short film, I think it’s a half an hour film. She’s also managed to do a feature length film which reflected the bombing of the American embassy in Kenya. She found her own financing for that. She had a lot of difficulty and a lot of troubles with that, but she completed the film. It did brilliantly on the festival circuit globally. About ten years ago I and producer Njeri Karago did a film called “Dangerous Affair”. Somehow she managed to make a film for a decent budget with a mixture of bank loans and the support from different investors. You know, for us 100.000 Dollar plus are amazing. So there are all these different things happening at home by enormous sheer will. Yesterday we were in a different city and I was listening to some German filmmakers talking about how terrible it is that they cannot get funding from once place and that they have to go all the way to the next region and have to look for funding there. I was just listening to this with absolutely fascination. For them the money is available, even if it comes with certain conditions which are less than perfect. To us that would be a dream. But I think it’s developing quite a resilient filmmaker who is somehow just turning out these productions and who is hugely enabled by the fact that things has now gone to digital.

filmtogo.net: How do you become an actor or an actress in Kenya? Did you go to a film school?

Susan Wanjiru: Mostly through auditions. Even for “Something Necessary” I auditioned for. In the industry it’s mostly that you did get cast for a certain role or you’re auditioning. The talent in Kenya is super amazing.

Judy Kibinge: But it’s a good question. Do actors and actresses go to a film school in Kenya?

Susan Wanjiru: Actually we don’t have film schools in Kenya. Actors pursue acting out of their country or they do workshops that are held by local filmmakers. But I never did a workshop.

filmtogo.net: When you talk, for instance, about Hollywood films, you associate them with the stars and all the glamour. Are there any motives with which you could associate African films?

Susan Kibinge: Nigeria has huge stars and if people would put the numbers and figures together, they’d be stunned. First of all Nigeria has a very huge population. It’s almost 200 Million people. And across the continent, in America or Europe, Africans and people of African descent really like to watch Nigerian movies. I didn’t quite understand the star factor until I was in Nigeria. Some stars were walking across the street and I could not believe the pandemonium. People were rushing over with their babies to place them in their arms. They’re superstars. They earn a lot of money because they have a huge watching and buying and paying audience. You know, they shoot for short periods of time and get big amounts of money. And when Nigerian stars even come to a country like Kenya, Kenyan stars are forgotten. We haven’t really reached a point where we are big on stars. But Kenyans are really excited if they see a Nigerian actor in Kenya. I think that the West of Africa is definitely leading in terms of stars, not just by the frequency with which they appear in films, but also by the fact that the sales of the films can actually afford them a kind of star-like lifestyle. And that’s important because sometimes you’ll see a star and by no fault of their own they maybe have an amazing music video. You just see them struggling to live. So I think it’s really important that stars are able to really live like what it appears like. Because they give films such an incredible pull. They’re able to create audiences in a way only few other things can.

filmtogo.net: And was that always that way? You did your first feature film in 2002. Did you experience some kind of evolution of the film industry in your country?

Judy Kibinge: Absolutely. When I did my first feature film, which was “Dangerous Affair”, the kind of films that would be made were very much paid for by non-governmental organizations. They often had some kind of a message attached to them. When we made this particularly film it was quite a daring film to make. It was definitely my producer. She was really trying to crack the mould. She said that we’re not making one of those boring village stories. We live in a city and we’re going to tell a pacey racy contemporary story. This made very big waves at that time. The film was talked about. It was watched a lot. It was very interesting for us to see the way these first audiences reacted to seeing ourselves on the screen. Just as people who walked like us, talked like us, lived like us and did not have this holy African mythology typed stories around them. They were just people living in a city. Since then we really began to see people experimenting. And with all the Kenyan filmmakers and artists experimenting, the music industry is very vibrant. It took of a lot faster. It might be because the technology is much more accessible. Films are much more complex to make. You know it looks like it’s easy to make a film until you make one. It’s complicated. But slowly you saw people translating their stories onto the screen. And there are all kind of stories. “Leo”, which is the story of a boy who has a certain dream to be a superhero was financed locally in Kenya. It was released about three or four month ago by a filmmaker called Jinna Mutune. And a whole bunch of other stories are emerging.

filmtogo.net: With what feeling did you get home when the film was finished?

Susan Wanjiru: I had withdrawal symptoms for like two weeks or more. Because snapping out of a character is not easy and especially a character that is so emotional. Also you’re used to waking up early and shooting and mingling with people. Then you go home and it’s all over, so you’re confused. It took some time to just get out of that.

Judy Kibinge: I remember you telling me that you were waking up in the middle of the night and you hear people shouting “Action!” and then you figured out that you’re just in your bed.

Susan Wanjiru: Yean and I’m like “Oh gosh”.

filmtogo.net: Because of the elections in Kenya, on Sunday your film will be shown for free on mubi.com. What do you think about such online streaming possibilities and the opportunities for independent productions?

Judy Kibinge: Such streaming opportunities like the one presented on Sunday, one day before our election, is very important because this is not a film made by a political or non-governmental group. It’s the kind of film with a responsibility to show it to as much people as possible. As a Kenyan it does make you really reflect on what happened in 2007 and reminds you how important it is that these elections go well. And that we choose our leaders really wisely and really well. So it is a incredible important thing. In Germany, for instance, as an arthouse film, it will only ever do on a tour like this. We’ve been on the road for twelve days, a city every single day. We go to different cities with this film and it’s shown in front of really great audiences. There were 400 in Cologne, 400 in Berlin. In some places there were 60 people, in others 20. That is really the kind of thing a film like this can realistically sustain. At home it ran for five weeks now, but it only can do so because of the kind of film it is. It is an arthouse film. It’s at slower pace, it’s more of a character driven story and not like the sort of fast pace thrillers that people are so used to because of Hollywood. So therefore it becomes really important to try and do whatever it takes to make sure it’s seen before a day like Monday. I hope people watch it. In Kenya a lot of people want to watch it, but they feel a bit of apprehension. Will it be too sad? Will it be too scary? Do I want to remember the elections? But I think they would watch it from the comfort of their homes. It would help them maybe to shake of some of the reluctance that some people feel about going to the cinema and watch a film that will remind them of what happened.

filmtogo.net: One final question to both of you. What are your feelings about the elections?

Susan Wanjiru: I have this positive energy because of what has been going on at home. Peace campaigns. Everyone wants peace. But also a little bit of nervousness because you don’t know what the outcome will be. But even in Kenya everything is okay. And we had a presidential debate, too. So that’s a great step ahead.

Judy Kibinge: Very positive. I think that maybe there will be disturbances in areas. Once you have an explosion, once you have so many terrible things happen and people do such terrible things to each other, there is always a feeling that there will be repercussions from one side to another. I don’t think that it will be totally violence free, but I think it will pass and it won’t be an enormous explosion. It’ll be a day that will going to lead us to a better place.

filmtogo.net bedankt sich ganz herzlich bei Judy Kibinge und Susan Wanjiru, dass sie sich für dieses Interview Zeit genommen haben. Das Interview führte Denis Sasse.